zero-hour
Zero-hour



"Are you okay, Tom?" Chakotay asked, lightly rubbing the back of the younger man's hand as they sat together in the Mess Hall. "You've hardly eaten anything."

"I know. I just don't feel like it, Cha. I mean, I *was* hungry when we got here, but I'm just too tired to eat. What I really need is a good eight hours uninterrupted sleep. In our bed. With you. I'm sick of taking catnaps in odd places. I had to make do with the ready room the last time. And I usually have to share each place with various other crew members."

Chakotay nodded sympathetically. "These last two days have been pretty rough on you, haven't they?"

"Yeah, they have," Tom agreed, idly prodding his food with his fork before finally pushing the plate to one side. "I knew from the first moment we encountered these aliens that they weren't gonna be the sort to back off, but I just wish they would. Not only are these constant attacks *physically* tiring, but they're draining me mentally, too. I'm finding it more and more difficult to concentrate. And you and I have hardly spent any time together since we got married," he complained, looking longingly at Chakotay.

"Yes, I know, Tom," Chakotay sighed, gently squeezing Tom's hand. "And I've really missed you. But we're almost at the co-ordinates for the first wormhole now, so, with luck, it will all be over soon."

"Yeah, one way or another," Tom commented quietly as he looked into his husband's eyes. "It seems unlikely that the aliens are gonna leave us alone, and the condition Voyager's in means it's doubtful if any plan anyone else comes up with will work, because we just don't have the resources. Power levels are down, no long-range communications, so no messages to Starfleet for help if one of the wormholes does go to the AQ, and unfortunately, we don't have a limitless weapons supply. So, all in all, that really does only leave us with the one option we thought we had, doesn't it?"

Chakotay sighed again, heavily. "If only they had answered our hails," he said, shaking his head with frustration as he thought of how many times they'd tried to contact the alien ships before the external communications system had failed, all to no avail. "This whole situation might have been avoided. We wouldn't even have to be *contemplating* the course of action it looks as though we're going to have to take."

"Yeah, but the aliens are too concerned with trying to keep us away from the wormholes, aren't they?" Tom remarked, leaning back in his chair as he rubbed his eyes with his free hand.

"I'm not sure that *is* their intention," Chakotay replied, pushing his own plate aside as he gave his response further consideration. "After all, *we* only know about the wormholes because of the star chart, and Seven's in-depth analysis of it. The anomalies haven't actually shown up on our scans yet, so it's possible that the nebula that's interfering with our sensors has also kept the wormholes hidden from our adversaries.

"I think you were right the other day when you suggested we'd strayed into this species' territory when we changed course. I think their initial offensive was meant to frighten us off, but when that didn't happen, and after finding we were vulnerable to attacks by multiple vessels, I believe they then decided to pursue us. The amount of damage they did must have encouraged them too. I don't think the wormholes had any relevance at all in their decision."

"Maybe, but I don't suppose we'll ever know for certain, will we?" Tom said, yawning. "But one thing's for sure, if one of the wormholes *does* lead to the Alpha Quadrant, there's no way in hell we can allow these aliens to enter it."

"No, we can't. And providing we get the chance to set up what we need to, they won't," Chakotay stated, rising. He gently pulled Tom to his feet, then hugged him briefly as Neelix wandered over to collect their plates. After repeatedly assuring the Talaxian that nothing was wrong with the food, it was only Tom's state of exhaustion that had caused him to leave it, Chakotay took Tom's arm and steered him out of the Mess Hall, passing Harry Kim on the way.

The Ensign was sitting alone, as he had done each meal time since his altercation with Tom in Sandrine's a few nights earlier, and he looked up as the two men approached, catching Tom's eye momentarily before swiftly dropping his gaze back to his plate and studiously ignoring his former best friend.

Chakotay sighed as he noted Harry's actions, giving Tom's arm a sympathetic squeeze as they continued out into the corridor.

Once they were out of the Mess Hall, Tom pulled Chakotay to a halt, then gently pushed him until his back was against the wall. Leaning in, he softly kissed the older man's lips, ignoring the stares from a few crew members who evidently hadn't believed the news that the two men had married.

As Tom silently thanked the older man for his concern, Chakotay's arms wound themselves around Tom's waist. He pulled the pilot close, returning the love-filled kisses for a few minutes before finally suggesting they head to the observation lounge for the remainder of their short off-duty break.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Good job we always send probes through before risking the ship," Tom commented. He'd returned to duty an hour earlier and was sitting at the helm, watching the events on the viewscreen with the rest of the bridge crew.

"Yes, it certainly is, Lieutenant," Janeway remarked, turning towards Tom and noting him rubbing his tired eyes.

The wormhole that had recently been visible on the large screen, had only shown up on the ship's sensors just forty minutes before they'd reached it. As they'd watched, it had became unstable, then closed, taking with it the probe that had been sent in to determine where it led.

Putting aside her disappointment that the anomaly had proved to be of no use, Janeway turned her complete attention to the helm. "Set a course for the next wormhole. Warp six," she instructed. "Perhaps we'll have more luck with that one."

"Aye, Captain. Course adjusted," Tom answered, turning round to look at her. "We should be there in just over two hours."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'm calling up a replacement for you, and when he arrives, I want you to go to your own quarters and get some sleep. You'll rest better there than on the ready room couch. If, by some miracle, the wormhole goes where we want, and it's stable, I want you as fresh as possible when you attempt to navigate it."

/There's your opening, Cha,/ Tom remarked silently before acknowledging the Captain's order. /That'll be the first part of the plan sorted. But there's no way I can set up the more intricate part right now. I really am tired./

//That's okay, Tom. We'll do the rest when we can.// Chakotay responded as he turned towards Janeway. "Captain," he said, facing her. "I think it might be in the ship's best interest if Baytart was given extra rest time too. I know Tom's our best pilot, but he's been called upon a lot over the last two days, and even with more sleep he might not be up to the possibility of piloting Voyager through the wormhole. If he isn't, then we'll need a well rested back-up pilot."

Janeway considered Chakotay's advice for several minutes before replying. "Yes, you may be right," she said, nodding. "Have Culhane take over now. Unless there's another red alert, he'll stay at the helm until we've reached the second wormhole and launched the next probe."

"Yes, Captain," Chakotay answered, turning his attention to his console and sending a message to Culhane.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Fuck!" Tom swore vehemently as his sleep was disturbed yet again by visions of attacking ships. He struggled to his feet, his uniform-clad legs tangled in the bedclothes as he lunged for his shoes. He swore again as he tripped and fell, knocking over the small table that stood by the bed. Picking himself up, but ignoring the upturned table, he grabbed his footwear, the only thing he'd removed before getting into bed an hour earlier, and quickly put the shoes on.

Leaving the bedroom, he rubbed his still tired eyes, making it to the outer door as a flash of bright light illuminated the cabin, and the ship was hit by an enormous blast of energy. Simultaneously, the red alert sounded and the ship was rocked again, causing Tom to lose his footing once more. As he stumbled backwards, he crashed to the floor, his head hitting the edge of the coffee table. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness, was another blinding flash of light streaking past the viewport.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"How many fingers can you see?" the Doctor asked as Tom blinked, his eyes not yet adjusted to the dim lights in sickbay.

"Four," Tom muttered after he finally managed to focus on them. "But what's going on here, Doc? Why is the lighting so low?"

"A result of the attacks, I'm afraid," the EMH replied, helping Tom to sit up. "We suffered even more damage this time, and we've had to reduce the lighting further in an effort to conserve energy for more important areas of the ship."

"How long was I out?" Tom asked, frowning as he remembered his collision with the coffee table.

"Just over three hours. I could have brought you round earlier, but after I scanned you, I decided against it. Your brain wave patterns were all over the place, and I didn't want to risk causing permanent damage to you by waking you before you were ready."

"Three hours?" Tom queried, hopping off the bed. "Have we reached the second wormhole yet?"

"About fifteen minutes ago," the Doctor confirmed. "A probe was launched, but I don't think it's returned yet."

"Can I leave?" Tom questioned, already heading for the door.

The EMH gave a holographic version of a sigh, then waved his hand towards the exit. "Yes. Go. I'd be fighting a losing battle trying to get you to stay, anyway. But if you feel dizzy, or have any other symptoms, come straight back."

"I will, Doc," Tom promised as he stepped out of the sickbay doors and into the corridor. /Cha? Are you okay?/ he enquired as he made his way to the bridge.

//I'm fine now that I know *you're* okay, Tom,// Chakotay answered. //Have you been released from sickbay?//

/Yeah. I'm on my way to the bridge. Has the probe returned from the wormhole yet?/

//Yes, but unfortunately it showed the exit was behind us. We've just set a course for the last of the wormholes. We should be at the marked location in approximately three hours.//

/Gotta be third time lucky then,/ Tom remarked, stepping into the turbolift and instructing it to take him to the bridge.

//I hope so, Tom. I hope we haven't misinterpreted Azai's intentions.//

/I don't think we have, Cha. I'm sure the last wormhole will be the one that takes Voyager home./

Chakotay turned around and nodded at Tom as he stepped out of the lift and headed towards him. "Are you okay now, Tom?" he asked the younger man again, a question the other crew members would expect from him.

"Fine, Commander," Tom answered, stopping in front of Chakotay. He glanced to his left and smiled at Janeway. "Orders, Captain?" he enquired.

"Glad to see you've recovered, Lieutenant," Janeway answered with a smile of her own. "As for orders, I'd still like you to rest, but I think you'll have to make do with either the ready room or the Commander's office. I'd like you to remain close by in case you're needed. I don't want a repeat of your earlier mishap." 

"Understood, Captain. I'll take myself off to the ready room if you're not gonna be using it. Could you send a damage report there for me to have a look at? I'd like to be up to date with our status for when I'm needed at the helm. I'd prefer to know of any limitations we have well ahead of time."

"Of course," Janeway answered, nodding. "Chakotay can send the appropriate reports to the ready room's computer terminal. I'll let you know when you're needed back here."

"Thank you, Captain." Tom turned to leave, squeezing Chakotay's shoulder as he walked away. /This is an ideal opportunity, Cha, and possibly the only one we're gonna get,/ he said silently, making his way towards the ready room. /If you give me the codes and tell me what to do, I'll set everything up./

//Be careful, Tom. We can't afford to be discovered. The Captain just wouldn't understand.//

/I know, Cha. And we won't be discovered. I'll make sure I cover my tracks completely,/ Tom stated as he entered the ready room. He crossed to the computer terminal and activated it, then, working quickly but diligently, he followed the instructions Chakotay passed to him via their link.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I'm sorry, Captain, but there's just no way I can get the warp engines back on-line within *four* hours, much less one," B'Elanna reported as the ship was rocked by another blast. "As it is, I'm barely able to maintain the impulse engines. When the shields temporarily went off-line, we suffered severe damage down here, and there's been several casualties. We're lucky we have any engines at all, quite frankly."

"Well, do your best B'Elanna," Janeway responded urgently over the comm link. "Anything you can give us right now will be more than welcome, but the warp engines are what we need most. If this last wormhole *can* get us any closer to home, then we'll make use of it. I know we can't go too far from this area, we have to guard the entrance to the wormhole while we wait for the probe to return, but as it is at the moment, without warp engines, we're virtually sitting ducks for these hostile aliens."

"I understand, Captain, but right now we're understaffed. If you could send some extra people to help, it'd speed things up a lot," B'Elanna replied just before the link crackled, then died.

"What's happened to communications?" Janeway called across the bridge to Harry, raising her voice to make herself heard as another energy blast hit Voyager's hull, the noise almost deafening inside the battered Starfleet vessel.

"The communication system has gone off-line, but I may be able to restore it soon," Harry said, checking the few readouts that were still coming through to him.

"How about shields and weapons?" Janeway asked, her attention drawn to the still-functioning viewscreen where she could see the four remaining ships taking part in the attack on Voyager, swooping in pairs on the Starfleet vessel.

"We have shields now, but only at twenty-five percent. Weapons are still operational, but our energy reserves are very low. As long as we continue to divert power from nonessential systems though, we should be okay for about an hour or so," Harry answered, his concentration on the panels in front of him momentarily shaken as Voyager was hit yet again by enemy fire.

"Very well. Close down any low-priority systems that haven't already been shut down, and re-route everything you can into the shield and weapon systems. There's only four of the alien vessels left now, so let's get rid of them as quickly as possible," the Captain ordered, turning around to look at Tuvok as a phaser blast from Voyager took out one of their remaining aggressors.

"One down three to go," Tom muttered from the helm. He'd returned to the post just before they'd reached the third wormhole, and the attack had started almost immediately afterwards. "Keep up the good work, Tuvok, because with just these sluggish impulse engines at my disposal, there's not a lot I can do to get us out of here," he continued, shaking his head at how useless he felt, his gift having been made almost ineffectual by the lack of speed needed to aid his evasion of the alien vessels.

"Captain. I'm picking up a signal. It's the probe," Harry announced. "It's just emerged from the wormhole. Initial readings indicate..." He stopped, looking up as he realised what the readings *did* indicate.

"Ensign?" Chakotay queried, looking over at Harry. "Report. Has the probe determined where the wormhole exits?"

"Yes, Sir," Harry nodded. "I'm not sure I understand this, but according to the readings, although the position of the wormhole was marked on the star chart, it only came into existence a short while ago. Although it's stable at the moment, it appears it may only be a temporary phenomenon. But it's destination is the Alpha Quadrant. A few hours journey from Earth."

"Let's see if we can confirm that good news," Janeway said, glancing at the viewscreen just in time to see another of the alien ships torn apart by Voyager's weapons. "Launch another probe, Mr. Kim. Then, see if you can restore internal communications."

"Aye, Captain," Harry replied, quickly carrying out the first of Janeway's orders.

The probe was launched amid a series of explosions that lit up the area of space surrounding the ship as one more attacking vessel ran foul of Voyager's phasers, some of the debris from the craft being thrown so far afield that it accompanied the probe into the wormhole.

/Perhaps we're gonna be okay after all, Cha,/ Tom commented as the last enemy ship decided to retreat. /If this wormhole is only temporary, it might close before the aliens get chance to enter it./

//That's possible,//

/But you don't think it's likely, do you?/ Tom turned around, his gaze fixed on Chakotay while he waited for his answer.

//No, Tom. I'm sorry. Even if the aliens aren't here when we enter the wormhole, they could arrive just afterwards. So someone will have to stay behind to ensure we don't have company. I know the Captain will try to find a way of preventing the aliens from following us, but with the ship in the condition it is, our plan is the only one that will work. I'm afraid that you and I will not be going home.//

/Yeah, I know that really. It was just a thought. I was still hoping there was a chance for us, that was all./

//I know, Sweetheart. I was, too.//

"Mr. Paris." Janeway's voice disturbed the two men's silent conversation. "I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but go and rest. Even if the second probe *does* confirm the first set of readings, we won't be taking Voyager through the wormhole until we've made enough repairs to the ship for us to traverse it safely. That should give you a little while to rest up, ready for the attempt."

"Yes, Captain. Do you want me to use the ready room again?" Tom asked.

"No, I may need to use that," Janeway began, stopping briefly as Harry interrupted to say that communications to most parts of the ship had been restored. "It might be better if you use the Commander's office instead."

"Captain," Ensign Kim interrupted again. "Shields have just gone off-line,  and we seem to have a power drain somewhere. If we're attacked again, we're going to be limited to just a few phaser blasts."

The Captain sighed, sending Tom on his way before she gave her full attention to the latest crisis.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The readings from the second probe confirm the wormhole *does* go to the Alpha Quadrant," Harry stated, smiling. "We have a way home."

Janeway leaned back in her chair, then glanced across at her First Officer who sat quietly studying the readouts in front of him. "Well, Commander, it looks like our sojourn in the Delta Quadrant is nearly over. Providing of course, we can get the ship repaired before the wormhole closes, and come up with a way to prevent enemy ships from following us."

"The repairs that have been carried out to the hull should be sufficient to get the ship through in one piece, even without shields," Chakotay replied, looking up. "And impulse engines will be adequate. But we may have to go through, hoping that Starfleet detected the probes we sent, and will come to our aid if we *are* followed."

"Yes," Janeway said quietly. "That's the only scenario *I* can see at the moment, as well. But I shall keep trying to think of an alternative. There has got to be another option."

"Paris to Chakotay," Tom's voice interrupted via the comm link.

"Yes, Tom? What is it?" Chakotay asked, although he already knew what Tom wanted.

"Could I speak to you privately for a moment? I'm in your office."

Chakotay glanced at the Captain, and Janeway nodded her consent for him to leave the bridge. "I'll be right there. Chakotay out." He smiled, then stood up. "Don't worry, Captain, you'll get the ship home," he said as he left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"We're gonna be under attack in less than five minutes," Tom stated as Chakotay entered the room. "This is it, Cha. Zero-hour."

"Have you spoken to Baytart?"

"Yes. He's on his way to the bridge. I told him I had to go to sickbay, and the Captain wanted him to stand in for me."

"Then let's go," Chakotay said decisively. "Computer. Initiate command sequence 'Chakotay-Paris-Alpha', authorisation code Zero-Zero-Alpha."

"Acknowledged. Shuttle bay outer doors open. Shuttle bay internal doors sealed. U.S.S. Voyager's automatic navigation system engaged. Override commands disabled. U.S.S. Voyager will enter the anomaly in three minutes. Transport of Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris to Delta Flyer, imminent. In compliance with instructions issued by Lieutenant Paris, details of command sequence 'Chakotay-Paris-Alpha' will not be recorded."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Where's Lieutenant Paris?" Janeway asked as Baytart walked to the helm just moments after the red alert had sounded.

"Sickbay, Captain," Baytart called back over his shoulder as he took his seat. "I'm standing in for him as you requested."

"As *I* requested?" Janeway asked, baffled.

Baytart didn't answer for a moment, then when he did, it wasn't in response to Janeway's query. "There's something very wrong here, Captain. The helm controls won't respond," he informed her worriedly, his fingers flying over the panel in front of him. "We're heading for the wormhole, and I can't change course."

"Captain," Harry called urgently. "There's something else you need to know. It's not just the alien vessels out there. Sensors have also detected one of our shuttles. The Delta Flyer."

"What the hell's going on?" Janeway enquired angrily. "Janeway to Commander Chakotay," she called, repeating the hail when there was no response. "Computer. Locate Commander Chakotay," she ordered as she gazed at the viewscreen, the alien ships visible as they closed on Voyager's position.

"Commander Chakotay is not onboard Voyager," the computer answered.

"Locate Lieutenant Paris."

"Lieutenant Paris is not onboard Voyager."

"When was the shuttle launched?" Janeway asked, turning her attention to Harry.

"According to the information I have in front of me, it wasn't," Harry responded, frowning. "There's no record of a launch."

"Try hailing the shuttle," the Captain ordered, glancing back at the viewscreen and the wormhole that now filled it, the ship continuing its pre-set course towards the anomaly.

"They're receiving our hail, but there's no response, Captain," Harry said, shaking his head. "And the alien ships are closing fast. They'll be within firing range in less than thirty seconds."

"Can we get a transporter lock on either the Commander or the Lieutenant?"

"No, Captain. The shuttle's shields are in place. We can't penetrate them."

Janeway sat back in her seat and stared at the sight in front of her, remembering Chakotay's last words before he left the bridge. "You had this planned," she murmured to herself. "You and Tom. But what the hell can one shuttle do against all those ships?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Are you sure we're not breaking Derzai Law by doing this, Cha?" Tom asked as he positioned the shuttle between Voyager and the alien ships that were advancing on her. "I mean, our friends now know that we're helping them."

"Yes, they do, but I don't think that matters. It's not the fact that we're helping that needs to be kept secret, just the method we're using to do it."

"I hope you're right," Tom said as Chakotay moved to stand behind him, his hands on Tom's shoulders. "I hope we're not gonna make things worse."

"It'll be okay, Tom. I'm certain of it. We were told not to reveal the 'gift' to anyone, or to let them know the 'source' of their help. And they *won't* know. We'll disguise what we do," Chakotay responded, bending down to tenderly kiss Tom's neck. "I know it would have been easier if we could have told the Captain of our intention to help, but there's no way she would have agreed to us taking the shuttle, because as far as she's aware we only have limited weapons to use against a fleet of alien ships."

"I know, Cha. She would've seen it as the suicide mission it actually is, and thrown it out," Tom remarked, turning his head to look up at his husband.

"Exactly, Tom," Chakotay agreed, gently running his fingers through Tom's hair, and studying the younger man's pale face. " But we're Voyager's only real chance of making it home in one piece, so...."

Tom nodded slowly, then stood up, leaving the shuttle to operate on autopilot. "I love you, Chakotay," he said softly, gazing at the older man as he wrapped his arms around Chakotay's waist. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me, you know." He took a deep breath, his eyes sparkling as they filled with tears. "I never knew what happiness was until that mud-bound away mission we went on. That day changed my life." He swallowed hard, his hands shaking as he gripped the back of the older man's uniform jacket. "I love you so much, Cha, and I don't want to lose you. I...." He broke off, unable to speak as his emotions, and the finality of their decision, overwhelmed him.

Chakotay closed his eyes, trying hard to prevent the tears that defied his efforts and rolled down his cheeks. "I love you too, Tom," he whispered, clutching Tom tightly to him. "And if there was any other way...."

"I know, Cha," Tom replied shakily, his body trembling as his own tears fell onto Chakotay's neck. "But there isn't, is there? This *is* the only way."

"Keep hold of me, Tom," Chakotay requested, his voice wavering as his tears continued to fall. "Let's depart this life in each other's arms," he said, moving his head to whisper the words against Tom's lips. "Kiss me, Sweetheart. Kiss me while we help our friends get home."

Tom nodded, and as their mouths slowly joined in a loving kiss, their thoughts began to merge too. Shared memories flashed unbidden through their minds, lasting, in reality, only a fraction of a second, but seeming to the two men as though they were reliving the moments in full; bodies illuminated by the glow of fire light; hidden desire and love; laughter; tears; Azai's hands on their shoulders; surreptitious kisses in corridors and lifts; a tent, and passionate lovemaking; the loss of a friendship; two lives becoming one.

As the memories started to fade into the background, they were replaced with thoughts of the present, and the urgent need to help their friends. Determination filled the two men, and their minds reached out beyond the confines of the shuttle until it no longer stood between them and the universe. Behind them, they could see Voyager, edging ever closer to the mouth of the wormhole. And in front of them, a dozen alien ships, all determined they would destroy the Starfleet vessel, then enter the anomaly themselves.

A single thought; an agreement made without words, came to the fore, and the men knew what they would do.

The shuttle was now stationary, the tiny craft dwarfed by the ship it was trying to protect, its destruction, by the alien vessels that were converging on it, a certainty. But with its destruction would come Voyager's salvation. The shuttle's demise would disguise the use of the men's gift. Holding each other close until the very last, they would send out an immense energy wave at the very instant the shuttle was hit, and their adversaries would be no more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The tractor beam's useless," Harry reported, leaning on the panel in front of him, and pulling at his hair in frustration. "I don't know what they've done to the shuttle, but I just can't get a lock on it. We've run out of options. There's no way to save them."

Janeway nodded, not really surprised that the attempt had failed. "They don't want to be saved," she said knowingly, her attention, like that of every other crew member on the bridge, riveted on the viewscreen. "It's pretty obvious they planned it this way. They're only interested in *our* safety."

Baytart turned away from the helm to face Janeway, then spoke quietly. "We've entered the wormhole, Captain."

His words fell on deaf ears as everyone's attention stayed fixed on the viewscreen, where energy blasts from five of the twelve alien vessels could be seen streaking towards the Delta Flyer. As the horrified crew watched, the tiny shuttle was engulfed in a brilliant flash of white light that intensified for a moment, flooding the bridge with incredible radiance, then was gone, taking with it not only the Delta Flyer and its occupants, but all the alien vessels too.

Before that event had barely registered though, another astonishing phenomenon greeted the crew. The wormhole was starting to close behind them, folding in on itself almost as rapidly as Voyager was progressing towards the exit, sealing itself completely as the Starfleet vessel emerged into the Alpha Quadrant, safe, but pervaded by an almost unnatural quietness.

As people stood unmoving, rooted into place by what they'd witnessed, the stunned silence was finally shattered. The comm system unexpectedly crackled into life as Voyager was hailed, and Harry Kim, functioning entirely on autopilot, opened the link. The viewscreen flickered briefly, then a hazy picture appeared in front of the shocked bridge crew, and a face, familiar to most, peered out at them.

"U.S.S. Voyager," Admiral Owen Paris greeted them, trying hard to make out the figures on the bridge through the distortion that was as evident his end as it was on Voyager. "We detected the probes you sent our way, and we're here to assist you." He smiled, then looked towards the Captain's chair. "Kathryn," he continued. "On a personal note, I want to thank you for bringing my son back to me. I've been waiting for this day for years. I look forward to speaking to both of you shortly. But for now, to you all, I say welcome home."


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